When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed Bharatiya Janata Party workers in Delhi on Thursday, he said the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was poised “to gain the maximum” in Tamil Nadu in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as “a strong alliance was in place”.
The BJP and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had on February 19 announced their decision to contest the polls together in the southern state. The Pattali Makkal Katchi, popular among the state’s most backward Vanniyar community, joined the alliance that same day. According to the agreement between the partners, the BJP will contest five out of Tamil Nadu’s 39 Lok Sabha seats and the Pattali Makkal Katchi will contest seven seats. It has also been promised one Rajya Sabha berth.
However, less than 10 days later, it seems discontent within the Pattali Makkal Katchi family may jeopardise the alliance’s prospects.
Party workers disgruntled
Although the president of the Pattali Makkal Katchi is senior leader GK Mani, its founder S Ramadoss and his son Anbumani Ramadoss, its youth wing leader, take all the major decisions.
Their decision to join hands with the National Democratic Alliance has stirred up discontent within party ranks. Its state vice-president Ranjith resigned from his post on February 26. A week before that Rajeshwari Priya, an office-bearer of the youth wing, had also quit the party.
Addressing the media in Coimbatore after resigning, Ranjith said he was “deeply disappointed by the alliance with the AIADMK”. He said that the Pattali Makkal Katchi had so far been criticising the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is ruling Tamil Nadu, for its corrupt practices. “PMK had criticised the AIADMK government on the issue of prohibition,” he said. “But has now joined hands with the very regime that sells liquor.”
Some Opposition parties, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, had also criticised the Pattali Makkal Katchi’s decision to join the National Democratic Alliance. This saw Anbumani Ramadoss defend the move as “necessary” in a press conference on Monday. “We have joined with AIADMK for the welfare of Tamil Nadu,” he said. “We will force the AIADMK to agree to all the 10 demands put forth by us.”
But that does not seem to have convinced breakaway factions of his party, which are now determined to campaign against the Pattali Makkal Katchi in the upcoming elections.
The family of senior party leader J Guru, popularly called “Kaduvetti” Guru, who died in May, leads one of the factions. Guru’s family is upset over the treatment meted to them by Anbumani Ramadoss during Guru’s last days, saying that they were humiliated and sidelined by him. They launched a new party called Maaveeran J Guru Vanniyar Sangam on February 16. They plan to ally with another faction of the Pattali Makkal Katchi led by T Velmurugan and campaign against the Ramadoss-led party.
Vanniyar support eroding?
Founded in 1989 by S Ramadoss, the Pattali Makkal Katchi has strong roots in the Vanniyar Sangam, a social organisation for Vanniyars, who dominate the party.
Keen on bringing together the Vanniyars and Dalit communities, Ramadoss ensured that a Dalit was appointed as the party’s general secretary. In 1998, when the party was offered a berth in the Union Cabinet, he picked Dalit Ezhilmalai, who became Minister of State for Health.
A predominantly agricultural community, Vanniyars dominate 13 of the 29 districts in Tamil Nadu, including Kanchipuram, Cuddalore, Vellore, Villupuram, Tiruvannamalai and Tiruvallur. They constitute the single-largest community in the state, accounting for 12% of the population overall and one-third of the population of the northern districts. With a strong base among this community, the Pattali Makkal Katchi emerged as a force to reckon with soon after it was founded.
By the late 1990s, the party began to consolidate only the Vanniyar votes, stirring up anti-Dalit sentiments and banking on caste conflicts. It was alleged to have incited caste violence in Dharmapuri in 2012. Two years later, Anbumani Ramadoss won the Lok Sabha seat from this constituency. However, the party’s vote share in the Parliamentary elections have seen a steady fall since 2004. It got five seats with 6.71% of the vote in the 2004 general elections. In 2009, its vote share fell to 5.72% with the party not winning a single seat. It managed only 3.17% of the vote and one seat in the 2014 general elections.
A senior Pattali Makkal Katchi leader, who did not want to be identified, said that this was because members of the Vanniyar community were not supporting the party any more. The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam instead had a strong voter base among the community, the leader said. “This is also one of the reasons why the PMK decided to ally with the AIADMK,” he said.
Without a strong base, the Ramadoss-led party is banking on the ruling party to regain its lost support. But with seven Lok Sabha seats in its kitty, the discontent with the Pattali Makkal Katchi does not augur well for the prospects of the National Democratic Alliance in the state.